EU is considering further sanctions against Belarus for illegal immigrants

  • Sanctions could be in response to the expulsion of a French diplomat
  • EU says Belarus is deceiving migrants by promising new life in the EU
  • EU is also considering sanctions against Belarusian foreign ministers

LUXEMBOURG, October 18 (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of the European Union debated on Monday over new economic sanctions against Belarus, including airlines, in order to stop Minsk’s planned policy, according to Brussels, of flying in thousands of migrants and sending them across the border.

The sanction proposal, first voiced by Latvia in Luxembourg on Monday, was initially not on the EU foreign ministers’ agenda and may have been a reaction to a decision by Belarus to expel the French ambassador over the weekend, diplomats said.

France said on Monday that its ambassador left Belarus because the authorities ended his accreditation after failing to provide credentials to President Alexander Lukashenko, who the EU no longer recognizes as the legitimate head of state.

A tightening of sanctions would be imposed following extensive measures against the Belarusian economy in June over Lukashenko’s actions against demonstrators after his controversial re-election in August 2020. The protesters say the election was rigged, which he denies.

Many EU states are now also accusing Lukashenko of flying in illegal migrants from Iraq, Iran and Africa in order to send them across the border into the EU in order to destabilize the bloc.

Lukashenko denies this and blames the West for what he believes is an impending humanitarian catastrophe this winter after migrants were stranded on the Belarusian-Polish border. Continue reading

“We have to introduce stricter sanctions … That means putting so-called tourism companies that organize flights under sanctions,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics when he arrived at a meeting with his EU colleagues in Luxembourg.

“I also believe that we need to fully sanction Belavia so that it cannot receive any support,” he said, referring to the Belarusian national airline, which is already banned from EU airspace.

Iraqi migrants speak to representatives of the NGO Grupa Granica while surrounded by border guards and police officers after crossing the Belarusian-Polish border during the ongoing migrant crisis in Hajnowka, Poland on October 14, 2021. REUTERS / Kacper Pempel / File Photo

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Belavia leases aircraft from EU countries, particularly Ireland, which has been skeptical of measures that would disrupt existing leases, despite Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney saying he was open to preventing future deals.

“While Ireland wants to increase sanctions and pressure on the Belarusian regime, we also need to make sure that this is workable and feasible,” he told reporters in Luxembourg.

The EU is also preparing a new package of sanctions against Belarusian individuals, which could include the Foreign Minister accused of having a role in the campaign to encourage illegal immigration to the EU.

NEW FLIGHTS, NEW PROMISES

Since August, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have reported an increase in illegal border crossings from Belarus. They accuse Minsk of using a network of travel agencies in Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa to offer migrants Belarusian visas and transport them to the EU border.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said migrant flows had not eased even after the EU managed to stop people leaving Iraq and Jordan.

“They are using new flights from a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa to fool people into hopes of easy entry into the European Union,” he said.

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the EU meeting that there would be further talks in the coming days.

“We will put more pressure on the airlines that bring people from different places to Minsk, from where they will be pushed to the borders with the support of the local ruler,” he said.

Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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